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MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito resigns after New Yorker exposé shows he quietly worked with Epstein to secure anonymous donations

Kat Tenbarge , Business Insider US
 Sep 08, 2019, 02:41 PM
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images
  • MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito announced his resignation on Saturday in an email to MIT's provost and president that he forwarded to The New York Times.
  • Late Friday, The New Yorker published an exposé containing emails sent between Ito and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was a convicted sex offender and faced charges of sex trafficking of minors before committing suicide in jail in August.
  • Ito worked with other directors and staff at the MIT Media Lab to quietly receive large anonymous donations from Epstein after he was convicted of soliciting underage girls for prostitution.
  • The emails show Epstein also worked as an in-between for other wealthy donors, including Bill Gates and Leon Black, and that Epstein had a role in determining what his donations would be used for at MIT, contradicting previous statements from Ito and the university.
  • For more stories go to www.businessinsider.co.za.

New York Times reporter Marc Tracy tweeted Saturday afternoon that MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito forwarded him his resignation email that had been sent to MIT's provost and president.

News of the resignation broke after The New Yorker published an exposé Friday night that contained emails sent between Ito and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who awaited trial on federal charges of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy before he committed suicide in jail in August.

In a letter to the MIT community, President Rafael Reif wrote that the exposé contained "deeply disturbing allegations" and that MIT's general counsel was engaging a "prominent law firm" to conduct an "immediate, thorough and independent investigation."

The New Yorker reported that Ito, who is on the board of The New York Times, along with the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation, communicated with Epstein and worked with him to solicit donations from the wealthy financier and others, including Bill Gates and Leon Black, in 2014 and 2015.

It also explored the relationship between Epstein, Ito, and MIT. Ito confided in other directors and researchers at the Media Lab about his working relationship with the then-convicted sex offender, to the concern of at least one female staffer who later resigned in part due to the lab's ties to Epstein.

On Saturday, Ito also resigned from the boards of the The MacArthur Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and The New York Times Publishing Company.

MIT Media Lab

Emails obtained and published by The New Yorker show that Epstein gave more money to the lab than previously said in public statements from Ito and MIT's president, in part because people like Gates and Black, a leading private-equity investor, were "directed by" Epstein to contribute upward of $7.5 million (R111 million).

A spokesperson for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told Business Insider that "Any claim that Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grantmaking for Bill Gates is completely false." The contents of emails sent between Ito and the lab's former Director of Development and Strategy, Peter Cohen, contradict that statement.

In one email, Epstein wrote "GAtes [sic] would like a write up on our one science program for tues next week" in an effort to secure a donation from the Microsoft founder, and Epstein specified in a reply to Ito that he wanted the write-up to be "more specofic [sic] so that he can fund."

Staffers in Ito's office referred to Epstein as "Voldemort" and "He who shall not be named," The New Yorker reported, due to the anonymous status of the donations granted by Epstein to the university, and the general secrecy that enveloped Ito's communications with the financier.

Ito attempted to conceal visits Epstein made to the lab by writing his initials or "VIP" in his itinerary, as opposed to Epstein's full name. MIT publicly admitted to receiving $800,000 (R11 million) from Epstein, which its president said would be given to a fund to support victims of sexual assault.

Privately, Ito received at least another $1.2 million (R17 million) from Epstein, in addition to the $7.5 million (R111 million) "directed by" Epstein to MIT. Emails show Cohen noting that Epstein's donations must be recorded anonymously, and showed him soliciting advice from the financier, such as when he emailed "you or Jeffrey would know best" to Ito.

In the summer of 2015, Epstein visited the Media Lab, The New Yorker reported, and brought two young models of Eastern European ethnicity with him. The female staffer who spoke to the publication, Signe Swenson, said the women in the lab discussed whether they could help the young women if they were not there on their own accord.

She and at least two other researchers have since worked with lawyers at Whistleblower Aid to bring attention to Ito's relationship with Epstein, and the late financier's ties to MIT.

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